The men’s open singles division routinely boasts some of the best tennis matches of the Charleston Public Courts tournament, and this year’s field will not be any different.
Defending champion James Kent returns as the No. 1 seed and Charleston’s Patrick Walker, a six-time public courts champion, is seeded No. 2 as the 55th annual tournament kicks off today at Schoenbaum Courts.
While these two have dominated the tournament over the last decade, the road to the men’s open title may prove to be the toughest in recent years.
Joining Walker and Kent is a trio of former Charleston-area high school tennis standouts: third-seeded Mark Cassis, fourth-seeded Chris Pratt and seventh-seeded Ryan Massinople.
“I think [the field is] deeper now than it has been in the past,” said Kent. “Cassis made the semifinals last year so he’s played well and some of the University of Charleston players have done well the last three or four years. They’re good players.”
“I think it’s a good field,” he said. “I’m glad to see guys like Bud Vredeveld competing again and to see some new faces. I’m pretty excited.”
Pratt, a 2010 graduate of George Washington who helped the Patriots to four consecutive state titles before heading off to play at Shepherd University, has had a few run-ins with Walker in past tournaments. Pratt fell to the former University of Missouri player in the 2011 and 2012 finals.
“Everything has to be on for me against Patrick, or any of these guys, really,” said Pratt. “We’re all good players.”
Cassis, who won the Class AA-A No. 1 singles championship at Charleston Catholic in 2013, and Massinople, who will play at Furman University this fall, just helped the Patriots to another state championship earlier this spring.
“I feel like I match up pretty well,” said Massinople. “I’ve played against Mark in high school and I hit with Pat a few times a week. I think we all know each other’s games pretty well.”
Despite the influx of younger talent, Kent and Walker still have to be considered the heavy favorites. Kent, a former Capital standout and WVU player, is coming off his record eighth Public Courts title, defeating Walker in last year’s finals. Walker had won four titles in a row and six of the last seven before coming up short last year.
“I’m always glad he’s coming out,” said Walker when asked about a potential match with Kent. “I’m pretty excited at a chance for a rematch.”
While players like Cassis, Massinople and Pratt have youth on their side, Kent and Walker come in armed with experience. Kent, who turns 36 in August, has been playing in the Public Courts since 1995 and Walker, 28, has played the last eight years and coached numerous players at the Charleston Tennis Club. Kent, though, says that the older he gets, the less pressure he feels.
“I’m not really that worried about it,” said Kent. “You can play well and win and you can play well and lose. The older you get, you learn to appreciate the game of tennis and this tournament more.”
The five will begin tournament play on Saturday when Massinople squares off against Jason Prince at 10 a.m. Kent will take on Zachary Hatfield and Walker will play either Blake Chambers or Robby DeMarco at 5 p.m. Cassis will play either Matthew Santen or Greg Pennington at 6:15 p.m. and Pratt will face either Aaron Allred or Joshua Coombe at 7:30.
The tournament starts at 5 p.m. today at Schoenbaum with men’s 4.0 singles, women’s 3.0 singles and men’s 7.5 doubles.